Planning and Gratitude Can Help Achieve Work-life Balance and Lower Stress While Going to School

By Millie Chévez - June 17th, 2019

Pursuing a bachelor’s or a master’s degree online will cause some level of stress and demand a lot of time and energy. Many students struggle to find a balance between school, family, and work because they don’t always know what that balance should look like or how to achieve it. In the following paragraphs, I recount what work-life balance has looked like for me and the two things I did that were crucial to achieving it. If you follow my advice, I believe you will not only find balance in your life but also have lower levels of stress.

If you do an online search for work-life balance, you will find there are many definitions to choose from. After reading many articles, I came to my own opinion that summarizes work-life balance: I define it as appropriately distributing your time, energy, and resources among the important things in your life to maintain equilibrium.  Imagine all your competing priorities on a horizontal line; sometimes you will need to put more time and resources to one area over another, and that it is okay. You don’t find equilibrium by giving every aspect of your life the same time and effort because that is not always required — some priorities weigh more than others. Achieving balance really means finding an equilibrium that works for you.


The most important thing I did to find equilibrium and sanity during my school days was to create a weekly planner.  I had four areas of focus: work, school, health, and family.


My work schedule was set by my employer, but when I started studying, I asked for some flexibility with my hours and was able to work half the day on Mondays. Not everyone has a flexible employer, but I would encourage you to ask if there are accommodations you can get, such as being able to stay after work to study or go in earlier so you can block off more time to study in the evenings.


After being able to work half a day on Mondays, I decided to study at the library for my online classes and try to do as much reading and research as possible during that time. I saw it as my “get ahead” day. I also made sure I scheduled other days at the library.


I was born with a health condition that causes me a lot of physical pain. One of the best ways I can manage it is by watching my diet and being active. Working in an office environment and studying was taking its toll on my health, so I made the decision to exercise at least three times a week. Since I had scheduled Monday afternoons to study, I decided I would go to the gym or for walks in the evenings. Mondays were my long days, but after studying for four hours, I needed the physical exercise to take some stress off. I also added snacks and light meals to my diet, as I had a very sedentary lifestyle. I bought more foods that are known for reducing inflammation – like kale, broccoli, and berries – to help me manage pain and stress.


I had the support of my husband and family while finishing my degree. They knew I was not going to be available to do things on the spur of the moment or to go on vacation often. To make sure I spent quality time with my family, I planned events ahead of time but never for the last week of class. Having something to do with my family every eight or nine weeks was my reward for studying hard. I also felt re-energized after spending time with them, and they were my biggest cheerleaders.


The other important thing I did to find balance and manage stress through my school days was to practice gratitude for five minutes a day. Multiple studies have found that gratitude is good for you because it helps to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, decrease fatigue, and improve sleep1. When you’re feeling good, you have better focus and thus are more productive. Practicing gratitude also helps you feel good about yourself and your progress, keep problems in perspective, and maintain healthy relationships with others. There are three things you can do to practice gratitude:

Use a journal: Take a minute or two to write down three to five things that you’re grateful for — it can be your health, having a supportive friend, getting a good grade on a test, or even getting a good night’s sleep.

Be specific: As you routinely write these daily gratitude lists, you will notice that it becomes easier to be thankful, especially when you meditate on specific events or acts of kindness from others.

Be consistent: As with any change that you want to turn into a habit, you must be consistent in your practice. Add it to your routine, and make sure you perform it at the same time every day. For example, if you’re more productive in the mornings, use that time to write in your journal; it will help you to set the tone for your day.

Planning and practicing gratitude can be hard when your schedule is full, and you’re stressed. However, work-life balance and peace of mind do not happen by chance. Succeeding in both school and life depends on our efforts, and on the decisions we make. Your priorities may be different than mine, but the steps I practiced (and continue to practice today) can be applied by anyone.


Comments 1

  • I appreciate the reminder to eat healthy and exercise. Sometimes it feels like we need to work, work, work, but taking a break helps with both recharging energy and processing information. I love gratitude journals but seem to put them aside when I am busiest–a time when all of us need them most. Thank you for the good advice!

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